Rouleur Cover Stories: issue 17.1 – Herentals by Michael Blann

On a Monday morning at the Herentals clinic all the surgeons get together for a team meeting and they discuss all the cases that are going through the surgery that week.


This image was part of that team meeting; they bring up all the images and the X-rays on screen and Toon Claes [head surgeon] was talking through the difficulties of this break.


The reason it’s all colourful like that is that it was a happy accident. Basically the monitor was rendering it and the shutter speed with the camera gives you that banding. We probably don’t see it that colour when we’re in the room but when you take a photograph of it, it comes out like that.


Rouleur Cover Stories – the tales behind the images on the covers of the Rouleur subscriber edition. 


This photo brings it home to me that when you go into surgery it is really invasive. You have this notion that everything is high tech because it’s medicine, but actually what you witness is something that is quite brutal.


You have these very skilled hands coupled with something that is actually very rudimentary, something that involves hammers and chisels and things that dig out bone. It’s physical as well as being deft. You’re essentially talking about Meccano.


When you do a bone graft you think they take a chunk out and they screw it in. But they don’t. They just push these bits of bone back into the space where they’re fixing the collarbone, and it grafts together and mends together. It’s amazing.

Dr Toon Claes: the bone man

This X-ray may have been a cyclist, but the surgery we witnessed was just a normal guy who had had problems with the existing plate being bent.


You can’t physically bend one of those titanium plates in your hand – they are too strong – but over time, with it being screwed into his shoulder, it had bent. It shows you the forces that are going on in the body.


Read about the Herentals clinic, the go-to surgery for professional cyclists, in Rouleur issue 17.1. 


What the shoot did make me appreciate is how amazing it is for pro cyclists to come back as quickly as they do. You’re chopping them up and sewing them back together, and they’re back riding their bikes two or three days after on the turbo trainer.


Cadel Evans crashed 10 weeks out from the 2011 Tour that we went on to win that year. The same with Toon, the surgeon; he broke his collarbone and about three or four days later rode up Ventoux something like nine times.


It’s not until in the surgery, seeing all this cutting and stitching, that you realise that it’s pretty traumatic stuff these guys are going through. We’ve got so used to thinking, ‘oh he’s broken his collarbone he’ll be back on his bike next week,’ but I take my hat off to anyone who goes through that and gets back on the bike so quickly.


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